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Creating “Compellingness” for Exponential Growth: H.E.R.O. Innovators Synchro Food, AS ONE, Prestige International & Corporate Travel Management

At that time, I really thought I am challenging what no one else is challenging,” recalled Shinichi Fujishiro, the founder & CEO of Synchro Food (TSE: 3963), an operator of online matching platforms for establishments in the the restaurant industry which has grown sales and profits for 15 consecutive years since its founding and now blossomed into a listed company with US$277 million in market value and the No. 1 online platform where nearly one out of every four restaurant operator is registered with Synchro Food which has over 129,000 registered users. “Since it is highly likely that the restaurant business will succeed if it can know the information of a good restaurant location before rivals, the property information was highly confidential… when the website is opened, only two to three companies registered the property. The business did not grow at all. It was harder than I thought to ‘earn money’ at the beginning, it felt depressing. There were days when I could not sleep,” said Shinichi-san on his difficult early days.

How did you keep your spirits up during this difficult period, we ask. Shinichi’s reply was inspiring: “The challenge itself is courageous and wonderful, and if it fails, the trace will remain, so someone may be able to return it to society. After thinking so, my feelings have become brighter. I felt inspired by the pride that ‘I am contributing to society’. I did not start from the ambition to enlarge the company, I wanted to do something that no one was doing and want to provide new value added to the people involved in the restaurant establishments of the world. When people gather around for me, it is strange and my feelings get brighter,” Shinichi said animatedly. “Looking at the web services provided by Synchro Food, it is easy to see the compelling convenience provided to our customers. To open and operate a restaurant in the conventional manner, you need to first of all look for a specialized property that is suitable, you need to visit a real estate agent, you then need to find the interior designers, you need to buy kitchen equipment, select ingredients suppliers, find the right people to take on the jobs. Even after the opening of the store, you need to attract customers, do promotion, handle accounting, do attendance management etc, which are all work waiting for you to solve. If you have a website that will provide compelling convenience in supporting them all at once, you will want to jump into it.”

Is the company creating “compellingness” in the products, services or solutions so that customers “want to jump into it”? – This is one of the questions that we like to ask, observe and analyze in our journey to discover and invest into a selected group of exceptional innovators with non-linear exponential growth potential whom we whom we call the H.E.R.O., the Honorable, Exponential, Resilient Organization. Offering something “compelling” indicates that the “alternative” solution solves an acute pain point for customers as compared to what was normally and currently done and pushes us to drive towards a course of action. Understanding the Purpose behind creating this “compellingness” and the “craftsmanship” involved in delivering this are critical in assessing the staying power of this “compellingness”. Shinichi shared how he was motivated to start Synchro Food as a result of his childhood experience of helping out his parents who were vegetable wholesalers selling to restaurants and he felt that many of the problems faced by the restaurant businesses were due to the lack of information gathering tools. After graduation and having acquired IT skills at an IT management consultancy firm, he resolved to change the restaurant industry by making use of his knowledge. There is also a certain craftsmanship in their in-house design and development of the websites from improving upon customers’ feedback.

“Compellingness” in “resolving customers’ troublesome times” is also the secret ingredient powering the success of AS ONE (TSE: 7476), as shared by Takuji Iuchi, the third-generation business leader of the specialist B2B platform business model that carved out a profitable niche and a market value of over US$1.3 billion selling through catalogs and its ecommerce site AXEL a vast array of laboratory and healthcare instruments. Takuji-san shared how their customers “are people who aim to overcome various problems at the work site, including researchers. They have various specialized needs, such as they want a tool and equipment that can make the experiment in a vacuum state or under zero gravity. Our strength is to not only deliver these products seamlessly and speedily, but also to listen to such voices and respond to the needs.” By pursuing their work with craftsmanship, AS ONE expanded into consulting for their customers: “Instruments and analyzers used for research are required to be accurate. Once a year, it is necessary to perform calibration work to check the accuracy of the machine, but it is a difficult task to put out one by one to the manufacturer. Therefore, we are also developing services such as contracting entire calibration services for the factory and lab customer while they are on holiday. Because the burden on the site is reduced at once, we delighted the busy researchers. In this way, I think that there are more things we can do if we think from the viewpoint of resolving customers’ troublesome times.” Takuji has a grander purpose to make AS ONE into “a company that employees can tell from your heart to your most important person, son, daughter, wife, husband, best friend that ‘It is such a nice company, there is no one else!’ It is easy for employees to be feeling that even though the company is stable and there is no big dissatisfaction, there is no sense of fulfillment either. I want employees to feel that their time in the company, where they spend most of their life, is meaningful.”

Shinichi Tamagami, the founder and CEO of Prestige International (TSE: 4290), also shared the compellingness of Prestige’s unique BPO solutions in resolving roadside-assistance problems for car insurance subscribers, home-assistance services for condo developers and home owners (from water leakage to lost of keys, house cleaning, parking assistance etc): “Our job and management philosophy of the Group is to listen to the inconvenience, troubles and embarrassing things of end users and guide solutions. Since our founding, the Group has always created new services and has continued to grow under this management philosophy. Today, we are developing businesses to solve each problem of customers in various genres such as automobiles, real estate, insurance and guarantee. Regardless of how the times change, we continue our efforts day and night to become the one and only existence that can solve every of these inconvenience, troubles and problems that occur daily for people before anyone else.”

This week in H.E.R.O. HeartWare: Weekly Asia Tech News with brief highlights of the inspiring entrepreneurial stories of tech leaders in Asia whom we have been monitoring over the past decade in our broader watchlist of around 200 listed Asian tech companies and our focused portfolio of 40 HERO Innovators who reveal their problems and successes behind building the company, we have:

(1) Shinichi Fujishiro 藤代真一, founder and CEO of Synchro Food シンクロ・フード (TSE: 3963, market cap US$277m), the No. 1 online platform operator for restaurants industry where nearly one out of every four restaurant operator is registered with Synchro Food which has over 129,000 registered users;

(2) Takuji Iuchi 井内卓嗣, President of AS One アズワン (TSE: 7476, market cap US$1,360m), a specialist B2B platform business model that carved out a profitable niche selling through catalogs and its ecommerce site AXEL a vast array of laboratory and healthcare instruments;

(3) Shinichi Tamagami 玉上進一, founder and CEO of Prestige International プレステージ・インターナショナル (TSE: 4290, market cap US$890m), a unique platform business model that provides business process outsourcing (BPO) services in Japan and internationally. It offers (1) road assistance services for nonlife insurance companies and auto industry, as well as accident response and support; (2) property assistance services, such as home assistance for condominium developers, and real estate management and agency companies, as well as parking assistance for parking lot operators; (3) insurance BPO services, including claims handling services and health care programs; (4) extended warranties for automobiles, rent guarantees, household equipment warranties, and nursing care and healthcare expense guarantees; and (5) supply-chain management (SCM), IT, and mobile solutions; CRM services;

(4) Jamie Pherous, founder and CEO of Corporate Travel Management Limited (ASX: CTD, market cap US$2,151m), which manages the purchase and delivery of travel services for the corporate market worldwide with its technological solutions platform.

We now live in an exponential world, and as the Baupost chief and super value investor Seth Klarman warns, disruption is accelerating “exponentially” and value investing has evolved. The paradigm shift to avoid the cheap-gets-cheaper “value traps” investment mistakes, to keep staying curious & humble, and to keep learning & adapting, has never been more critical for value investors. We believe tech-focused innovators with non-linear exponential growth potential are the most relevant multi-year investment trend and opportunity. Yet we do not want to chase the highly popular megacap tech stocks, overpay for “growth”, or fall for the “Next-Big-Thing” trap by chasing to invest in fads, me-too imitators, or even in seemingly cutting-edge technologies without the ability to monetize and generate recurring revenue with a sustainable and scalable business model, and we want to know how to distinguish between the true innovators and the swarming imitators. We see a distinct opportunity in under-the-radar underappreciated Asian SMID-cap tech stocks with unique scalable business models run by high-integrity entrepreneurs with a higher purpose in solving high-value problems.

H.E.R.O. stands for “Honorable. Exponential. Resilient. Organization.” and is operationalized into a unique, systematic 4-step investment process to identify the winners at the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. The H.E.R.O. HeartWare Weekly highlights interesting tech news and listed Asian emerging tech innovators with unique and scalable wide-moat business models to keep yourself well-informed about disruptive forces and innovation, new technologies and new business models coming up, and the companies that ride on and benefit from them in some of the most promising areas of the economy in Asia as part of our thought leadership to add value to our clients and the community.

Some of the HERO Innovators in the focused portfolio include the largest online-to-offline pet insurance company in Japan with over 60% domestic share of the growing pet insurance market with over 636,000 policies in force generating over 98% sticky recurring revenue income & cashflow (Japanese households own 20m pets and only 1.3m or 6.3% were insured vs 22% of the 15m pets were insured in UK), and is a tech innovator with services that include allowing insurance claims to be made via LINE in just three minutes, an industry first, enabled by its powerful database & analytical prowess of more than 10 million insurance claims tied to illnesses and accident that allow the company to propose preventive measures by examining how animals become sick and how accidents occur. This highly profitable online pet insurance with a healthy net-cash balance sheet founded by an inspiring and down-to-earth entrepreneur with an agricultural economics background who started his career at a top insurance company is an archetypal H.E.R.O. Innovator.

Hope you find the weekly report to be useful and insightful. Please give us your candid feedback and harshest criticisms so that we can improve further to serve you better. Besides the BATTSS (Baidu, Alibaba, Tencent, TSMC, Softbank, Samsung), do also tell us which Asian tech entrepreneurs & CEOs whom you admire and respect and why – we will endeavor to do up profiles of them for sharing with the community. Please email kb@heroinnovator.com on your thoughts, thank you very much. Have a beautiful week ahead.

PS: We are grateful to be invited to speak at the upcoming SharingAlpha-BrightTALK’s Investing In Asia Summit 2018 (July 12) – Finding Value in Asia: Discovering Tech Innovators in an Exponential World. There will be a live Q&A session at the end of the webinar. In the webinar, we will be sharing our framework and systematic process to identify winners, including rethinking the economic “moat” analysis which is a more defensive mindset and lagging-indicator framework to protect against competitors by complementing it with the more offensive “Catapult” 4Cs leading-indicator analysis (the Exponential Edge in “Curiosity”, “Community”, “Compellingness-Craftsmanship”, “Circumspection”) to discover innovators creating, enabling and capturing new demand with exponential non-linear growth potential. You can find more details on our abstract of the webinar below. We look forward to seeing you at the webinar on July 12, 9am British Standard Time (10am Swiss Time or 4pm Singapore Time), thank you so much.

Warm regards,

KB

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About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (www.heroinnovator.com), the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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